Watch Your Six

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Back Injuries are Tremendously Incapacitating and Easily Preventable

 
According to Jeffrey Koplan, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), back injuries cost approximately $13 billion every year1. This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that our backs function on a 7:1 ratio, so an average 100 lb human trunk places 700 lbs on the back while lifting, and this doesn’t take into account the weight of the lifted object2.

Back injuries are not exclusive to physically intensive jobs either; they can just as easily manifest in an office. There are many factors that contribute to back injuries, from obvious causes like poor posture and a lack of fitness to lesser known causes such as job dissatisfaction and emotional stress. What makes matters worse is that once a back has experienced trauma, it will never fully recover. No wonder so many view back pain as inevitable as death and taxes.

The most common forms of back injuries are sprains and strains. While both essentially exhibit identical symptoms, sprains involve tendons and/or ligaments while strains specifically deal with muscles. All trauma to the back falls under one of two categories: cumulative, which entails pain accrued over time through repeated strains, and acute, which denotes sudden injury from incidents like car accidents and spills3. Due to the immediate and abrupt nature of acute back trauma, it can be difficult mitigating this form of back injury. It requires diligence in maintaining safe practices on a daily basis. Conversely, there are a number of strategies available in preventing cumulative back trauma. However, this type of back injury can often catch people off-guard; oftentimes the various strains go completely undetected for months or even years until a single lift produces a ruptured disc4.

If you are a manager, you’re in a unique position to implement controls to prevent many back injuries. You can make modifications to the office to facilitate physically straining activities. For example, having load bearing equipment such as hand trucks available to your employees or requiring that all heavy objects be stored at waist level can make a significant difference in the rate of overexertion injuries5
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Additionally, protocols such as mandatory breaks every fifteen minutes of continuous exertion or clearing the floor to ensure safe routes prevent possible injuries as well as reinforces a culture of safety in your district.

Sources:
3,4 – Robert Smart, “Back Injury Prevention,” Water and Risk Management Pool, September 29, 2006

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